United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
KAREN C. LEDKINS, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
F. BIVINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Karen C. Ledkins (hereinafter “Plaintiff”), seeks
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her claim for a period of disability,
disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security
income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq., and 1381, et
seq. On October 19, 2018, the parties consented to have
the undersigned conduct any and all proceedings in this case.
(Doc. 19). Thus, the action was referred to the undersigned
to conduct all proceedings and order the entry of judgment in
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 73. Upon careful consideration of the
administrative record and the memoranda of the parties, it is
hereby ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner be
filed her applications for benefits on January 5, 2015, and
February 24, 2015, alleging disability beginning May 24,
2012, based on severe major depression, fibromyalgia, spinal
stenosis, migraines, knee replacement, and bone spurs in
shoulders. (Doc. 12 at 174, 176, 192, 196). Plaintiff's
application was denied and upon timely request, she was
granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law
Judge L. Dawn Pischek (hereinafter “ALJ”) on
September 21, 2016. (Id. at 41). Plaintiff attended
the hearing with her attorney and provided testimony related
to her claims. (Id. at 44). A vocational expert
(“VE”) also appeared at the hearing and provided
testimony. (Id. at 64). On April 14, 2017, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision finding that Plaintiff is not
disabled. (Id. at 14). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on December 5, 2017.
(Id. at 5). Therefore, the ALJ's decision dated
April 14, 2017, became the final decision of the
exhausted her administrative remedies, Plaintiff timely filed
the present civil action. (Doc. 1). Oral argument was
conducted on November 8, 2018. (Doc. 22). This case is now
ripe for judicial review and is properly before this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
Issues on Appeal
Whether substantial evidence supports the Residual Functional
Capacity (“RFC”) for a range of light work with
the stated restrictions?
Whether the ALJ erred in relying on the vocational
expert's testimony that there were jobs that Plaintiff
was born on March 16, 1965, and was fifty-one years of age at
the time of her administrative hearing on September 21, 2016.
(Doc. 12 at 41, 192). Plaintiff graduated from high school
and completed three years of college, obtaining a certificate
to be a respiratory technician. (Id. at 45).
last worked from 2007 to 2012 as a bus driver for the Mobile
County School System. (Id. at 197). Prior to that,
she worked from 2001 to 2008 as a bus driver for the Harrison
County School System, from 1998 to 2001 as a casino dealer,
and from 2005 to 2006 as a cashier at Dollar General.
testified that she can no longer work because she cannot
stand for long periods of time because of knee pain, and she
has problems with lifting and reaching because of neck and
shoulder pain, as well as fibromyalgia. (Id. at
45-49). Plaintiff testified that she has had surgery on her
knee, neck, and shoulders. (Id. at 48-49, 55).
Plaintiff testified that she takes medication for depression
and fibromyalgia, which has helped. (Id. at 50-51,
Standard of Review
reviewing claims brought under the Act, this Court's role
is a limited one. The Court's review is limited to
determining 1) whether the decision of the Secretary is
supported by substantial evidence and 2) whether the correct
legal standards were applied.Martin v. Sullivan, 894
F.2d 1520, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). A court may not decide the
facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its judgment
for that of the Commissioner. Sewell v. Bowen, 792
F.2d 1065, 1067 (11th Cir. 1986). The Commissioner's
findings of fact must be affirmed if they are based upon
substantial evidence. Brown v. Sullivan, 921 F.2d
1233, 1235 (11th Cir. 1991); Bloodsworth v. Heckler,
703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983) (holding substantial
evidence is defined as “more than a scintilla, but less
than a preponderance” and consists of “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.”). In determining
whether substantial evidence exists, a court must view the
record as a whole, taking into account evidence favorable, as
well as unfavorable, to the Commissioner's decision.
Chester v. Bowen, 792 F.2d 129, 131 (11th Cir.
1986); Short v. Apfel, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10163,
*4 (S.D. Ala. June 14, 1999).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
individual who applies for Social Security disability
benefits must prove his or her disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1512, 416.912. Disability is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Social Security
regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process
for determining if a claimant has proven his disability. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
claimant must first prove that he or she has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity. The second step requires the
claimant to prove that he or she has a severe impairment or
combination of impairments. If, at the third step, the
claimant proves that the impairment or combination of
impairments meets or equals a listed impairment, then the
claimant is automatically found disabled regardless of age,
education, or work experience. If the claimant cannot prevail
at the third step, he or she must proceed to the fourth step
where the claimant must prove an inability to perform their
past relevant work. Jones v. Bowen, 810 F.2d 1001,
1005 (11th Cir. 1986). At the fourth step, the ALJ must make
an assessment of the claimant's RFC. See Phillips v.
Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1238 (llth Cir. 2004). The RFC
is an assessment, based on all relevant medical and other
evidence, of a claimant's remaining ability to work
despite his impairment. See Lewis v. Callahan, 125
F.3d 1436, 1440 (llth Cir. 1997).
claimant meets his or her burden at the fourth step, it then
becomes the Commissioner's burden to prove at the fifth
step that the claimant is capable of engaging in another kind
of substantial gainful employment which exists in significant
numbers in the national economy, given the claimant's
residual functional capacity, age, education, and work
history. Sryock v. Heckler,764 F.2d 834, 836 (11th
Cir. 1985). If the Commissioner can demonstrate that there
are such jobs the claimant can perform, the claimant must
prove inability to perform those jobs in order to be found
disabled. Jones v. Apfel, 190 ...